AHA Foundation is thrilled to share the news of two major victories: on April 20, legislation against female genital mutilation (FGM) and child marriage in Washington and Vermont, respectively, was passed. Below, our Director of Policy and Women’s Programs, Michele Hanash, discusses why we should all take pride in these hard-won achievements.
Sometimes, it is frustrating to be an activist against FGM and child marriage in the U.S.
You spend months pushing for bills against these practices, preparing for legislative sessions, strengthening the bill language, planning your arguments, and strategizing with survivors and bill sponsors—and way too often, you see the bills fail or fall through the cracks. Sometimes, it feels like no matter how hard we fight, apathy towards the rights of girls and women is impossible to overcome.
But then, at other times, you see your hard work pay off and achieve amazing progress. April 20 was one of those days: FGM banned in Washington state AND child marriage outlawed in Vermont!
Victories like these are what make me get up every morning determined to keep on fighting. Whenever I feel frustrated at the creeping pace of progress, I think of these inspiring moments, when hard work and activism succeed and we can take pride in knowing we made a real difference for girls and women across the nation. According to the Population Reference Bureau, an estimated 25,000 women and girls who are at risk of or have undergone FGM are in Washington state, while 289 girls were married in Vermont between 2000 and 2021.* These states have now sent a clear message that they care about protecting these vulnerable individuals. This is what Disruption for Good looks like in practice.
AHA Foundation worked hard alongside many partners and allies to make these victories happen. Among other things, we provided legal research to the Washington Coalition to End FGM and we submitted testimony in favor of the Vermont bill.
The Washington anti-FGM law is now one of the most robust and multifaceted in the nation. Although it only defines FGM as a gross misdemeanor, it states that culture is not a defense for the crime. In addition to other provisions, it makes transporting girls outside the state to be cut, a practice known as vacation cutting, illegal. And it includes education and outreach, which means that the state will not only punish those who engage in FGM, but will also raise awareness about its dangers within the practicing communities with the aim of preventing the practice.
The Vermont law eliminated dangerous exceptions in the law that allowed some children under the age of 18 to be entered into marriage. Between 2000 and 2021, 80% of children married in Vermont were girls wed to adult men and children as young as 15 had been entered into marriage.
A huge thanks to the bill sponsors and everyone who worked with us to get these bills over the finish line.
And a huge thanks to YOU, our supporters, without whom none of our work is possible in the first place. These victories, which together will protect thousands of girls and women, belong to you, too.
But there are still 9 states (plus Washington, D.C.) which have not yet taken action against FGM and there are 42 states which still lack child marriage bans. We will keep fighting to protect girls and women in these states.
If you want to support us in doing so, please consider giving to our spring matching campaign—every gift brings us one step closer to unlocking $15,000 in matched funds pledged by a generous donor, meaning your gift will have double the impact.
Thank you again for your support. Together, let’s keep Disrupting for Good.